Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes

Chapter XXIV

Of the Nutrition and Procreation of a Commonwealth

THE NUTRITION of a Commonwealth consisteth in the plenty and distribution of materials conducing to life: in concoction or preparation, and, when concocted, in the conveyance of it by convenient conduits to the public use.

As for the plenty of matter, it is a thing limited by nature to those commodities which, from the two breasts of our common mother, land and sea, God usually either freely giveth or for labour selleth to mankind.

For the matter of this nutriment consisting in animals, vegetables, and minerals, God hath freely laid them before us, in or near to the face of the earth, so as there needeth no more but the labour and industry of receiving them. Insomuch as plenty dependeth, next to God's favour, merely on the labour and industry of men.

This matter, commonly called commodities, is partly native and partly foreign: native, that which is to be had within the territory of the Commonwealth; foreign, that which is imported from without. And because there is no territory under the dominion of one Commonwealth, except it be of very vast extent, that produceth all things needful for the maintenance and motion of the whole body; and few that produce not something more than necessary; the superfluous commodities to be had within become no more superfluous, but supply these wants at home, by importation of that which may be had abroad, either by exchange, or by just war, or by labour: for a man's labour also is a commodity exchangeable for benefit, as well as any other thing: and there have been Commonwealths that, having no more territory than hath served them for habitation, have nevertheless not only maintained, but also increased their power, partly by the labour of trading from one place to another, and partly by selling the manufactures, whereof the materials were brought in from other places.

The distribution of the materials of this nourishment is the constitution of mine, and thine, and his; that is to say, in one word, propriety; and belonged in all kinds of Commonwealth to the sovereign power. For where there is no Commonwealth, there is, as hath been already shown, a perpetual war of every man against his neighbour; and therefore everything is his that getteth it and keepeth it by force; which is neither propriety nor community, but uncertainty. Which is so evident that even Cicero, a passionate defender of liberty, in a public pleading attributeth all propriety to the law civil: "Let the civil law," saith he, "be once abandoned, or but negligently guarded, not to say oppressed, and there is nothing that any man can be sure to receive from his ancestor, or leave to his children." And again: "Take away the civil law, and no man knows what is his own, and what another man's." Seeing therefore the introduction of propriety is an effect of Commonwealth, which can do nothing but by the person that represents it, it is the act only of the sovereign; and consisteth in the laws, which none can make that have not the sovereign power. And this they well knew of old, who called that Nomos (that is to say, distribution), which we call law; and defined justice by distributing to every man his own.

In this distribution, the first law is for division of the land itself: wherein the sovereign assigneth to every man a portion, according as he, and not according as any subject, or any number of them, shall judge agreeable to equity and the common good. The children of Israel were a Commonwealth in the wilderness; but wanted the commodities of the earth till they were masters of the Land of Promise; which afterward was divided amongst them, not by their own discretion, but by the discretion of Eleazar the priest, and Joshua their general: who when there were twelve tribes, making them thirteen by subdivision of the tribe of Joseph, made nevertheless but twelve portions of the land, and ordained for the tribe of Levi no land, but assigned them the tenth part of the whole fruits; which division was therefore arbitrary. And though a people coming into possession of a land by war do not always exterminate the ancient inhabitants, as did the Jews, but leave to many, or most, or all of them their estates; yet it is manifest they hold them afterwards, as of the victor's distribution; as the people of England held all theirs of William the Conqueror.

From whence we may collect that the propriety which a subject hath in his lands consisteth in a right to exclude all other subjects from the use of them; and not to exclude their sovereign, be it an assembly or a monarch. For seeing the sovereign, that is to say, the Commonwealth (whose person he representeth), is understood to do nothing but in order to the common peace and security, this distribution of lands is to be understood as done in order to the same: and consequently, whatsoever distribution he shall make in prejudice thereof is contrary to the will of every subject that committed his peace and safety to his discretion and conscience, and therefore by the will of every one of them is to be reputed void. It is true that a sovereign monarch, or the greater part of a sovereign assembly, may ordain the doing of many things in pursuit of their passions, contrary to their own consciences, which is a breach of trust and of the law of nature; but this is not enough to authorize any subject, either to make war upon, or so much as to accuse of injustice, or any way to speak evil of their sovereign; because they have authorized all his actions, and, in bestowing the sovereign power, made them their own. But in what cases the commands of sovereigns are contrary to equity and the law of nature is to be considered hereafter in another place.

In the distribution of land, the Commonwealth itself may be conceived to have a portion, and possess and improve the same by their representative; and that such portion may be made sufficient to sustain the whole expense to the common peace and defence necessarily required: which were very true, if there could be any representative conceived free from human passions and infirmities. But the nature of men being as it is, the setting forth of public land, or of any certain revenue for the Commonwealth, is in vain, and tendeth to the dissolution of government, to the condition of mere nature, and war, as soon as ever the sovereign power falleth into the hands of a monarch, or of an assembly, that are either too negligent of money or too hazardous in engaging the public stock into long or costly war. Commonwealths can endure no diet: for seeing their expense is not limited by their own appetite but by external accidents, and the appetites of their neighbours, the public riches cannot be limited by other limits than those which the emergent occasions shall require. And whereas in England, there were by the Conqueror diverse lands reserved to his own use (besides forests and chases, either for his recreation or for preservation of woods), and diverse services reserved on the land he gave his subjects; yet it seems they were not reserved for his maintenance in his public, but in his natural capacity: for he and his successors did, for all that, lay arbitrary taxes on all subjects' land when they judged it necessary. Or if those public lands and services were ordained as a sufficient maintenance of the Commonwealth, it was contrary to the scope of the institution, being (as it appeared by those ensuing taxes) insufficient and (as it appears by the late small revenue of the Crown) subject to alienation and diminution. It is therefore in vain to assign a portion to the Commonwealth, which may sell or give it away, and does sell and give it away when it is done by their representative.

As the distribution of lands at home, so also to assign in what places, and for what commodities, the subject shall traffic abroad belonged to the sovereign. For if it did belong to private persons to use their own discretion therein, some of them would be drawn for gain, both to furnish the enemy with means to hurt the Commonwealth, and hurt it themselves by importing such things as, pleasing men's appetites, be nevertheless noxious, or at least unprofitable to them. And therefore it belonged to the Commonwealth (that is, to the sovereign only) to approve or disapprove both of the places and matter of foreign traffic.

Further, seeing it is not enough to the sustentation of a Commonwealth that every man have a propriety in a portion of land, or in some few commodities, or a natural property in some useful art, and there is no art in the world but is necessary either for the being or well-being almost of every particular man; it is necessary that men distribute that which they can spare, and transfer their propriety therein mutually one to another by exchange and mutual contract. And therefore it belonged to the Commonwealth (that is to say, to the sovereign) to appoint in what manner all kinds of contract between subjects (as buying, selling, exchanging, borrowing, lending, letting, and taking to hire) are to be made, and by what words and words and sign they shall be understood for valid. And for the matter and distribution of the nourishment to the several members of the Commonwealth, thus much, considering the model of the whole work, is sufficient.

By concoction, I understand the reducing of all commodities which are not presently consumed, but reserved for nourishment in time to come, to something of equal value, and withal so portable as not to hinder the motion of men from place to place; to the end a man may have in what place soever such nourishment as the place affordeth. And this is nothing else but gold, and silver, and money. For gold and silver, being, as it happens, almost in all countries of the world highly valued, is a commodious measure of the value of all things else between nations; and money, of what matter soever coined by the sovereign of a Commonwealth, is a sufficient measure of the value of all things else between the subjects of that Commonwealth. By the means of which measures all commodities, movable and immovable, are made to accompany a man to all places of his resort, within and without the place of his ordinary residence; and the same passeth from man to man within the Commonwealth, and goes round about, nourishing, as it passeth, every part thereof; in so much as this concoction is, as it were, the sanguification of the Commonwealth: for natural blood is in like manner made of the fruits of the earth; and, circulating, nourisheth by the way every member of the body of man.

And because silver and gold have their value from the matter itself, they have first this privilege; that the value of them cannot be altered by the power of one nor of a few Commonwealths; as being a common measure of the commodities of all places. But base money may easily be enhanced or abased. Secondly, they have the privilege to make Commonwealths move and stretch out their arms, when need is, into foreign countries; and supply, not only private subjects that travel, but also whole armies with provision. But that coin, which is not considerable for the matter, but for the stamp of the place, being unable to endure change of air, hath its effect at home only; where also it is subject to the change of laws, and thereby to have the value diminished, to the prejudice many times of those that have it.

The conduits and ways by which it is conveyed to the public use are of two sorts: one, that conveyeth it to the public coffers; the other, that issueth the same out again for public payments. Of the first sort are collectors, receivers, and treasurers; of the second are the treasurers again, and the officers appointed for payment of several public or private ministers. And in this also the artificial man maintains his resemblance with the natural; whose veins, receiving the blood from the several parts of the body, carry it to the heart; where, being made vital, the heart by the arteries sends it out again, to enliven and enable for motion all the members of the same.

The procreation or children of a Commonwealth are those we call plantations, or colonies; which are numbers of men sent out from the Commonwealth, under a conductor or governor, to inhabit a foreign country, either formerly void of inhabitants, or made void then by war. And when a colony is settled, they are either a Commonwealth of themselves, discharged of their subjection to their sovereign that sent them (as hath been done by many Commonwealths of ancient time), in which case the Commonwealth from which they went was called their metropolis, or mother, and requires no more of them than fathers require of the children whom they emancipate and make free from their domestic government, which is honour and friendship; or else they remain united to their metropolis, as were the colonies of the people of Rome; and then they are no Commonwealths themselves, but provinces, and parts of the Commonwealth that sent them. So that the right of colonies, saving honour and league with their metropolis, dependeth wholly on their license, or letters, by which their sovereign authorized them to plant.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38